stanwick-horsePrehistory ends with the Romans and the introduction of the written word into our islands. We only know the personal names of a few 1st century Britons from the time of the Roman occupation of Britain, two of them are women, Boudicca and Cartimandua.

At the time of the Roman invasion Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes, was a ruler in her own right, and the living symbol of Brigantia , a tribal alliance that covered much of northern England. She is the first recorded British Queen and her royal palace is thought to have been at Stanwick, four miles south of the River Tees.


We do not know a great deal about Cartimandua but the Romans must have considered her a very important figure as they chose to maintain good relations with her. She ruled The Brigantes for twenty six years during a time of massive social upheaval and military occupation.


Roman historian, Tacitus’s account of Cartimandua is brief and not very complimentary but it does give us a glimpse into the life of an extraordinary northern British woman in the 1st Century. The fact that she managed to keep her throne, and maintain a relative peace for more than a quarter of a century during a time of war and rebellion, implys that she was a powerful leader during a period when society was rapidly changing


Apart from an account in Tacitus’s Histories there is no archaeological evidence that Cartimandua ever existed.  There is a possibility that her life passed into oral history as Gwenhwyfar the wife of King Arthur and was recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his work The History of the Kings of Britain.

Sister Mary Jacques

Sister Mary

In 1858 a boiler exploded at the Snowden & Hopkin’s works, the blast hurled a number of men into the river and sixteen men were severely injured by flying debris and steam. The population of Middlesbrough at the time was 15,000 and the nearest hospital was at Newcastle, some of the badly injured were taken there but died on the way. Others were taken to their homes and lodgings, but two, who had no one to care for them, were put into a stable on Stockton Street.

Mr. Jordison, a local printer, was so distressed by the state of these men that he appealed for help to the head of the Christ Church Sisterhood at Coatham who then sent an associate member, Miss Jacques, to Middlesbrough.

Sister Mary Jacques had been trained at the Deaconess Institute at Kaiserworth in Westphalia, where Florence Nightingale had also received her training. She rented a cottage in Middlesbrough where injured men and the poor of the town could receive treatment.

Sister Mary eventually bought a house in Albert Road, where she lived with two other helpers and later, with financial help from Mr. del Strother and Mrs. Newcomen, bought two cottages in Dundas Mews and converted them into a Cottage hospital which contained eleven beds and a dispensary. The hospital opened in March 1859 and was the first cottage hospital in England*. 

In the first nine months fifty-five patients were treated, together with 490 outpatients. The women who staffed the hospital had all taken religious vows and went on to found a community known as the Community of the Holy Rood. This became the first religious community in Middlesbrough since the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.


The Story of Cleveland. Minnie Horton 1979

The History of Middlesbrough. William Lillie 1968

*Update 11.05.21 see comments